Watery Grave
Bruce Alexander
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996

Review by Morgiana P. Halley

"A Sir John Fielding Mystery".

The action takes place in England in 1769, mostly in the city of London. The “star” character is Sir John Fielding, a blind judge, but the story is written in the first person by one Jeremy Procter, an adolescent boy rescued from a life of Oliver Twist-ish crime by the judge and now living in his home and serving as his “guide dog” and sometime amanuensis.

The story revolves around the death at sea of the captain of HMS Adventure and the prosecution (by court martial) of one Lt. Landon for his murder. Although it is obvious that the narrator, Jeremy, is no seaman, Fielding's stepson is a member of the crew of Adventure and Fielding himself was blinded whilst serving in the Royal Navy.

Much of the book's concern is that courts martial did not address all the facts of their cases (in an effort to keep the Navy looking good) and were less fair than civil courts. It is evident from the outset that Landon is innocent, but he is eventually hanged for a murder he did not commit.

The book is framed in the sort of style and language made popular in the novels of Dickens and Trollope, and is thus hard to navigate. Very little of actual interest to the maritime fiction lover is to be found in the text, although there are many colourful characters and the world of Covent Garden and the Docklands of London are vividly portrayed. A press gang even picks up young Jeremy at one point, and he has to be rescued.

Probably the most annoying repeated flaw in the text is the author's habit of referring to naval vessels as "the" HMS Whatsit. It's not a bad read (although the stylistic conceit makes it heavy going sometimes) as a picture of the times and customs, but has little to recommend it as nautical fiction.

Copyright © 1997 by Morgiana P. Halley
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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